Saturday, 13 August 2016

IRON HORSE

A Taste of the New Book
Sometime around October, my new book of short travel stories will come out. To bridge the gap, here is a taste of what is to come. It is a story based upon an experience related to me by someone I met on the road quite a few years ago in Canada. I hope you like it - it's a freebie.

Iron Horse
It was back when he was living alone in the shack.  A long hard winter had kept him in one place – forced him inside. Inside was against his nature, as was staying in one place, but he’d have died otherwise.  The rusting metal cabinet he’d managed to drag into the shack had got him off the floor at night, but even with all the junk, the old blankets and newspapers, the cold managed to work its way through and into his bones.

It had been a still night with not much wind and he’d slept well until the early hours. Something had woken him.  Something out of the ordinary - not a wild dog or a twister. He stuck his head out from under the ragged blanket.  For a while there was nothing. Pretty quickly his head started to ache from the cold and he began winding the blanket back around him, then he heard it.  The rumble of a big old motorcycle engine, somewhere out there in the hills.  It was moving slowly, labouring over the rough terrain.  Joel sat up.  Were they coming for him?

Joel had always known it was a risk to camp out in the shack.  Apart from the pipeline, it was the only structure for miles and it stood near the track.  Anyone passing would be drawn to it.  A month back when a water company pick-up had passed, he’d messed up the interior in a panic then quickly buried himself in the sand like a desert gopher until the intruders had moved on.  The bastards had taken the binoculars he’d left hanging inside.  This time he decided he’d stay put.

“How do?” Said Joel, thrusting out his hand in the manner of a man who was the proud owner of a property. The biker had parked up right in front of the makeshift doors. He’d dismounted but left the old motor turning over.

“What d’ya have, mail for me?” asked Joel, with a smile.

“Saw the shack way back, when I cleared that ridge,” said the old man, gesturing back into the hills.

He was a sight for sore eyes, Joel thought. Like something from an old western – some kind of medicine man or fairground horseman. His long grey hair and beard were dusty from days or weeks riding through the desert. He wore no crash helmet. In its place a battered old cowboy hat. He had a cowboy’s bedroll too, strapped to his handlebars. The bike was probably as old as he was. Both looked in need of a good clean-up and some running repairs.

“Nice old bike… once upon a time,” said Joel. “Why don’t you turn her off so we can talk?”

“Ah she’s ailing a bit,” he replied, “kickstart arm’s sheared the spindle. I have to bump her. At my time o’ life that’s a bit of a challenge. Knees have gone south. Gone in the garbage is the truth of it. These ones is tai-tanium they told me. Take some getting used to. Ache like an angry whale in cold weather. I'da been better off with the old uns. This your place then?”

The old man tried to make more of the shack with his sweeping arm gesture than it really was. A generous thought, which Joel spotted and was grateful.

“Yeah, I kind a laid claim on it,” explained Joel, casually. “Was hiking cross country, heading up to Canada eventually. Clean air, rivers, fishing, all that. I done my time working in the city and I had enough of it. I though deserts, you know, they’re always hot. Well not here they’re not! When the winter set in I couldn’t survive in the tent. That’s when I came across the shack. I just pitched up behind her for a couple of days, keeping outa the wind. One night I was so cold I thought I’d die. I went delirious – right outa my mind. In the morning I woke up in the shack. She saved me. Saved my life for sure. Go on turn her off, I’ll bump start ya after. I got some coffee and a camp stove. Just one cup but I’ll drink from the pot. Name’s Joel. Glad y’stopped by.”

The coffee took some time to boil. The old guy introduced himself as Richard.

“They call me Kit.”

“How long you been travelling, Kit?”

“Travelling most of o’ my life,” said Kit. “No plans to stop, neither.”

“Ever had a wife, Kit?”

“Nope.”

“Me neither. Girlfriends, lady friends and what have you but no wives, no thank you!”
“Oh I’da had a wife if one had a been willing!” said Kit. “Just never worked out that way. Couldn’t change my roving ways I suppose. So Ruby there’s the nearest I ever had to a wife.”

Kit nodded towards the old Harley Davidson, clicking now and again as she cooled off.

“Hah, well she’s a fine old lady, Kit, I’ll say that.”

“Won her in a fight,” said the old man, chuckling.

“You’re joking now?” said Joel, pouring half the coffee into a battered tin mug.

“True as I sit here! I was with a bunch of other guys out west. We were a band I suppose you could say. Troubadours. Bunch of outlaws on bikes turned up at the bar we’d agreed to play in that night. Sons o' bitches said it was their local bar and we should git out of town. The owner he hid behind the bar counter. Customers slipped out the back door. They was all afraid of these guys. I was fearless back then – a bit stupid was the truth. Anyhow I asked ‘em who the leader was. A huge barn door of a guy with a big scar across his mean face stepped forward. I said I’d arm wrestle him and if I lost we’d leave town. While we sat down and prepared, Little Lonnie our fiddle player was round the side pulling the electric cables off their bikes. Meanwhile the owner’s wife had called for the cops. While I was being beaten at the arm-wrestle by the big ape, Lonnie was under the table cuffing the ape to the big steel table leg. When the cops came they had to chase him a mile into the brushwood, dragging the table behind him. Yep, them outlaws went to jail. Bikes was impounded. Cops told me if nobody else come forward, we could make a claim for ‘em. After a month that’s what we did. Ruby was the best of ‘em. Yep, I had my eye on her from the start.”

“Love at first sight then?” said Joel.

“Yep, that’s the story! She’s an old lady, but she’s never let me down.”

Kit drained his coffee.

“I hope y’make it to the border, Joel. I really do. Want my advice, get y’self a set of trucker's cards and bum lifts by night. Cops'll leave y'lone. Y'ready to bump her?”

Joel got to his feet. Kit did the same but more slowly and with a prolonged groan.


“Tai-tanium my ass!”


People I've Met On The Road should be out – in the first instance as an e-book – by the end of the autumn (2016). Sorry for the wait. 

Check out Mark Swain's other books at:
Mark Swain on Amazon UK
Mark Swain on Amazon .com

and on this blog (add your e-mail to receive updates)

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